This is a transcript of SYS 446 – James C. Bressack On Making Hot Seat With Mel Gibson.
Welcome to Episode 446 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I am interviewing Director – James Collen Bressack, who just did a feature film called Hot Seat starring Mel Gibson. We talk about his career. He’s done a lot of these action genre movies. So, we talked about that a bit his career, how he’s gotten some of these films produced, and then ultimately how he got his new film produced, so stay tuned for that interview.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leave a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links and I mentioned the podcasts can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts, and then just look for episode 446. If you want my free guide How to Sell a Screenplay in five weeks, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free. Just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter, how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So, just a quick few words about what I’m working on. The main thing I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks is the screenplay contest, which closed on July 31st and for entries on July 31st, and the film festival, we’re still going through all the submissions that we should have them all read by the end of August. And then we’ll start making our announcements in September, I think September 12th is the announcement date for the second round. I’m putting the film festival together now. So, I’ve been spending a lot of time on that I actually did a little tech scout at the theatre this week, it looks really nice the theatre is well run, they have a nice little screening room set up. And the folks I’ve dealt with at the theatre have all been super nice as well, if you’re looking for a screening space in Los Angeles, it’s in East Hollywood, I would say definitely reach out to them. It’s called The Yard Theatre and it’s on Melrose. Anyway, so I’ve been working on that watching these film submissions that have come in, and just trying to figure out the schedule, trying to group the films together into blocks, you know, put a couple of shorts with a feature or put a block of shorts together. Just to sort of genre or tone wise, you know, try and find things that kind of match and go together and just putting together a schedule. So hopefully in the next week or two, I will have an announcement on that. If you do live in the Los Angeles area, please do consider coming out to see some films, we’re going to do one script reading as well. On Sunday, October 9th at 2-PM, it is basically a table read. In this case, the actors will not be sitting around the table, they’ll get be getting up on stage, and in chit and sitting on chairs and then reading their parts to the audience. Once we have the quarterfinalist figured out, I’ll figure out which screenplay is going to be but it’ll be one of the screenplays from this year’s contest. I’ll be there, of course, along with some of our other industry judges, and then so we’ll do this reading up on stage, we’ll have a bunch of good professional actors reading the different parts. And then as I said, I’ll be there with some industry judges. And then once we get done the reading, will as other writers will give notes to the screenwriter, and everybody can hear those and anyone else who is in attendance is more than welcome to chip in their two cents and give notes as well. That’s one of the things I found doing writers groups and this sort of thing is that you never know where good ideas going to come from. And getting different people’s perspective is fantastic. So really, I’m hoping people will come out and sit in the audience and give us notes and just help develop this project a little bit. I’m hoping to live stream this reading. So, if you’re not in LA, you can hopefully get the live stream. Assuming of course, I can figure out how to set it up and run a live stream. I’ve never done that before, but I don’t think it’s too difficult. But regardless, I mean, I’m hoping to livestream it, but I’ll definitely record it and then put it on the YouTube channel. So, everyone will eventually be able to see it. But once again, if you’re in the LA area, definitely think about maybe coming out. Once again, the festival is October 7th to 9th in East Hollywood. And, you know, I’ll be making announcements as time goes by and we get closer to the event, you know, trying to promote some of the films and just talk about what’s going to be going on at the festival. So anyways, that’s the main thing I’ve been working on. And frankly, probably the main thing I’ll be working on here for the next couple of months is just getting the festival all organized and then wrapping up the screenplay contest as well. Anyways, let’s get into the main segment today. I’m interviewing director – James Cullen Bressack, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, James to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
James: Thank you so much for having me.
Ashley: So, let’s dig into your latest film Hot Seat starring Mel Gibson to start out maybe can give us a quick pitch or logline, what is this film all about?
James: So, a man who’s a hacker sits down in his office chair, just like he does every single day. But when he does, he hears a beep and gets a phone call letting him know that there’s a bomb attached to the bottom of his chair. Meanwhile, you know, a special operative outside who is a part of a bomb squad must navigate the booby traps building in order to try and rescue him.
Ashley: So, it sounds like a very perfect contained sort of speed in one building. Talk about this process. How did you get involved with this screenplay? How did you get brought onto this project?
James: So, the script was with DFL, Randall Emmett and George Furla had purchased the script, and they were looking for a director. And so, I’d worked with him before. And they sent me the script. And I read it and I thought, you know, the script that Leon and Colin put together, really jumped off the page. It was a good read like a page turner, and they were very, you know, I really connected with it and thought it would be a lot of fun to make.
Ashley: Now, I noticed on IMDb, there’s no actual screenwriting credit, maybe that’s just an oversight. But these guys have to story by credits. Can you talk about the development? Did you guys develop?
James: I mean, they wrote the script. So, I think that’s just a mistake on IMDb. For some reason, they’re credited as story, but they wrote the screenplay.
Ashley: Gotcha. And so maybe talk about the development process? You know, it sounds like it was a page turner, you mentioned some of those things that you liked about it. Was there anything you didn’t like about the script? Were there some things that you did want to develop with the writers? And how did you lose those?
James: You know, some of it was just, like, once we got the location and stuff, it’s like, okay, so how do we make what’s written work inside this building, you know, a perfect example is, like, it was originally written for, you know, we’re shooting in New Mexico, and it was originally written for Manhattan. So, like, you know, there’s some shifts that need to be made. Because, you know, the biggest building in New Mexico is not the tallest building in Manhattan, you know, so there’s different, you know, plot devices that needed to kind of be altered in order to accommodate the new location. As well as like, you know, actor requests for, Mel wanted his character to be a bit funnier. So, you know, there was definitely some changes to his dialogue. But, you know, overall, the movie had, like, story and bones and everything from the get go. And, you know, the one thing that Colin and Leon did really well is the script was very descriptive. So like, you know, it kind of, funny thing that I always say is, like when I read scripts, they really jumped out to me, if they kind of read almost like a comic book, because like you’re hearing the sound effects, and you know what’s going on, and I like scripts that tell you what’s going on, but they don’t tell you how to shoot it, if that makes sense. Like, because there’s a lot of times where you’ll read a script, and it’ll say, like, blah, blah, you know, cut to this angle, or whatever. Like it says, you know, camera does this. And it’s like; well, why is the script telling me what the cameras should do? Like, I’m going to come up with that, like, you know, it’s more of a like, if you just tell me what’s going on, I’ll come up with that. I thought it was really good, because their screenplay was very descriptive of the things that were happening, but it was never giving direction of camera or anything like that, which I thought was very smart.
Ashley: Yeah, and I think that’s excellent advice from a director like yourself, is there anything else that you can recommend to screenwriters, sort of in that same tone? Things that you see writers do that maybe directors might not necessarily like that much and really, I’m just asking you, what does a writer do to impress a director like yourself, in addition to these things you’ve just mentioned, is there anything else?
James: I mean, having like, strong characters is really important characters that, you know, we feel like an actor would be able to connect with, but you know, one thing like I said, not putting in actual like direction. So, if you’re not writing in stuff, like what the camera is doing or anything like that, I appreciate that more because when you look at that you go like well, does the writer want to direct this? You know, like, so there’s that as well as I think, having the ability to when you hear a line, like if I read a line without even seeing the name, I should know which character is saying that, you know, like characters having a distinctive voice you inside of it. And I think that’s important because like, if one of them is the wisecracker this, like, you know, if you could just swap the line without ever knowing, that’s hard, you want the characters to have distinctive personalities. And so like, you know, punching that up is important as well. And I think, Leon and Colin did a really good job of having these characters have different voices in the film.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Sound Advice for sure. So, I’m just curious too, you mentioned in this case, these two producers brought you this script, you had worked with them in the past, just in general, as a director, how to scripts typically come through your desk? Is it situations like this? Do you have an agent that maybe gets scripts and gives them to you? And really just in context, like, how should writers be approaching, you know, directors like yourself, if they think they want some of your movies like, wow, my script could really be a good fit for him? Like, how could they potentially approach someone like yourself?
James: So, I mean, it comes in different ways. Like, you know, if the project is already being produced, and I get offered to direct it, I read the scripts and, and that’s how, you know, the producers acquired that script in one way or another. And that’s like a work for hire scenario. You know, there’s other ways where there’s scripts that I’ve read, that have come across my desk, either from friends or people I know. And like, those become things that I’m like; Oh, well, this is interesting, you know, it’d be something I’d like to tackle. But a lot of the time, what happens is like scripts gets sent to either like my manager, my agent, or like my assistant, and then I get, like, kind of like a report of like if they liked it, and if they liked it, I begin to check it out. But I’m usually very hesitant towards reading any type of screenplay, if I’m not going to make it because the way I look at movies, I usually like to have other people read it before me, because the way I look at a script is, you know, I’m immediately trying to figure out how I’m going to shoot it, and like planning that stuff. And so, if I’m doing that, like, I don’t just read it to read it. So, like, if I start doing that, I kind of like, that’s a lot of work that starts going on in my brain when you know, I kind of need to know in advance if it’s something that is logical to make. So, I usually have one of my reps read it before me.
Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. Do you know offhand how these two producers found the script for Hot Seat? Was it a contest? Was it the blacklist? Or had they worked with these writers before?
James: That I do not know.
Ashley: So, when you got involved with the project, what was sort of in place? Did they have Mel Gibson in place? Did they have funding in place? And I sort of just asked this, again, just to get a context of what are the things that move the meter for you as a director? Like when they brought this to you, was it just a script? And that’s all they had Mr. [Name] sign as a director, but…
James: They had financing and they had Mel.
Ashley: Okay. And do you have any tips for writers? I get a lot of questions from screenwriters all the time, how can I get this actor or that actor attached? Would you have any advice in that case, if a writer wants to try and get some talent attached to his script, early in the process?
James: I think find characters that jump off the page. I mean, you know, actors like playing characters that are interesting. But finding stuff, that’s interesting. And also, not making people play the thing that they always play, like, you know, if it’s you go to an actor with something that’s a little different than what they normally do, they’re going to resonate it with it more, if it’s a good character, versus the thing that they always do. Because they get sent this thing that they always do all the time. You know, somebody told me yesterday when I was talking with them, it made a lot of sense, like, you know, instead of going to like a famous comedian, with a comedy script, if you went to them with like, you know, a drama script, you might get a better response, because they might get a million comedy scripts, you know, a year, but if they might not get that many drama scripts at all, you know, and it’s a lot harder to tell funny people what’s funny, versus, you know, so it’s the same thing, like you want to approach them with something that’s unique for them.
Ashley: So, you mentioned in this case, Mel Gibson wanted his character punched up, and to be a little bit funnier. And obviously, in this particular case, that might have worked and been a great idea, but just as in general, as a director, how do you handle actors or even writers or suggestions that maybe you don’t think necessarily works and sort of just not specific to this, but I’m just wondering, like, how can you find that medium ground if there’s artists or creative differences with a writer or an actor?
James: Well, you know, film is a living breathing thing. It’s a collaborative medium, but the director is like the final arbiter really, of like what is going to happen? So, I’m very collaborative, but you know, if we’re going off the rails, I’m going to say, hey, that doesn’t really work for the project. And if you’ve built up a rapport and rapport tastes of not doing that, and you are collaborative. The times that you do say; Hey, that’s not going to work. People listen. I mean, it’s not really like a battle. It’s really just people, you know, everybody’s they’re trying to make the best movie possible. So, a lot of the time if you say, hey, it’s not going to work because XYZ, people listen, I mean, I haven’t really gotten me into those battles before, if that makes sense.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I’m curious. And this is really a director question. How do you get these actors, and I just did a movie with Eric Roberts. So that’s really the context of this, how do you get these actors that, they’re working on projects that are maybe not as big as sort of some of the highlights of their career, how do you get them motivated? How do you get them to come show up and give their A game to a smaller project that maybe they’re used to?
James: I think, you know, the more excited you are about the project, and the more that excitement is infectious. So, like, you’re excited and you’re pushing towards this goal, and you know what you’re doing and you’re showing that you know what you’re doing, and that you’re not going to make them look silly, and showing that they’re in good hands. They’re going to respond well.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Sound Advice. So how can people see Hot Seat? Do you know what the release schedule is going to be?
James: Hot Seat is out July 1st, so this Friday, and it will be on VOD and limited theatrical. And it should be available to rent on VOD, anywhere that you can rent the movie, anywhere you normally rent your movies. on VOD, you’ll be able to rent Hot Seat.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. And how can people just keep up with your career and what you’re doing Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I’ll put in the show notes.
James: I’m Twitter and Instagram at JamesCullenB. But I’m actually more so often on Instagram nowadays than Twitter.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. And is there anything you’ve seen in the last six months or a year Netflix, HBO that you can recommend to a screenwriting audience?
James: Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s a really amazing movie that is very unique and different. That and also the Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent because Nick Cage is amazing. And I’m glad that he’s making his comeback.
Ashley: Okay, good. Yeah, two recommendations. I had someone else give that first recommendation, Everything Everywhere All at Once give that recommendation, so I definitely have to check that one out. James, I really appreciate you coming on talking today. Good luck with this film. And good luck with all your future films as well.
James: Thank you so much, and good luck with the movie with Eric Roberts.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
I just want to talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays, along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre, and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they want to produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of the service. You can find out about all the SYS select successes by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also, on SYS podcast episode 222, I talked with Steve Dearing, who was the first official success story to come out of the SYS select database. When you join SYS select you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS select members. These services include the newsletter, this monthly newsletter goes out to a list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads, we have partnered with one of the premier paid screenwriting leads services so I can syndicate their leads to SYS select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently, we’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut. There are producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They’re looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS select, you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also, you get access to the SYS select forum, where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. We also have a number of screenwriting classes that are recorded and available in the SYS select forum. These are all the classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to those whenever you want once you join, the classes cover every part of writing your screenplay from concept to outlining to the first act, second act, third act, as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please go to sellingyourscreenplayselect.com Again, that is sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing writer director – Daniel Benedict, who just did a cool 80s throwback horror film called the Body Man. We talked about his career, how he’s able to get this latest film produced, he casts some 80s Horror folks in it. In fact, Tuesday night, who was in my film, we talked about that a little bit how he was able to get her cast in his film. So, some interesting things going on. There’s a lot of parallels with my own film and his film. So, it’s a really fascinating interview, was fascinating for me to just hear how somebody like him put this project together as someone who has put a similar project together, so keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.